Tonight J and I were lucky enough to get to the Tate Modern to see Gavin Bryars and his ensemble perform “A Man in a Room, Gambling,” a piece based on a spoken word performance by Juan Muñoz.
The concept was pretty cool: as I read it, it was spoken word about a person’s thoughts during the course of a night of gambling, or, as described in the program, “strategies employed in card games.” In fact, it turns out the spoken bit is about how to cheat at cards, starting with three card monte, then dealing from the bottom of the deck, how to “fake” cutting the cards, and how to hide a card you’ve palmed after the hand is over. Hah! According to Mr. Bryars, Muñoz’s thought was that the various pieces were supposed to be little one off radio slots, rather like “The Shipping News” (for Americans, imagine that poet of the day thing Garrison Keilor does), that stood by themselves but had an air of strangeness to them, meant to be heard as you were going from one thing to the next. In between, there was a piece called “The North Shore,” a piece Bryars made in honor of his friend Muñoz, whom he described as “a great artist and a good bloke.” It was built off of one of the pieces from the Gambling series, though I couldn’t tell which one.
My review of the show was … well, Bryar’s music can be very difficult for me to put temporal order to. One minute you’re doing one thing, one the next, and while I might hear little themes that I sort of briefly recognize, or hear stylings that I enjoy, I find it difficult to string it together in my head. This is where listening to a CD can really help, because you can build it up over and over until it makes a structure that you can comprehend. Live music is so very here and now, a series of seconds taking place one after the other, that it can be hard for me to feel like I’m moving rather than just having sound images flashing at me, one after the next. Baroque music isn’t like this. That said, the narrative provided by the voice, which called up very striking visuals and was even sequential and goal oriented, was a good companion to the music. And I liked the music, but modern stuff just isn’t as easy as earlier stuff.
Conclusion: well, I guess I need to go see who this Muñoz guy is and why Bryars thought he was worth collaborating with in the first place. The exhibit at the Tate goes on through the end of April, so there’s plenty of time. And if YOU’RE interested, if you click on the link, you can listen to Juan giving away the trick to dealing from the bottom of the deck. My guess is that J will be practicing them now that he’s heard all of the secrets. Finally: three card monte: you can never win. Juan said so.
Show order: From A Man in a Room Gambling (1992); Number 2 (Three card trick), Number 4 (Shifting upper pakc to bottom), Nmber 3 (cutting), Number 8 (Getting rid of extra cards). The North Shore (1994). Then Number 16 (Taking cards from teh bottom), Number 9 (Three card trick, Mexican Row) and Number 10 (Dealing from the bottom). I wanted desperately to stay afterwards and have my picture taken with the great man himself, but … well, I can just hope there is a next time!
(This review is for a concert that took place Thursday, February 28, 2008.)